Our capacity for self-delusion is seemingly endless and never more pronounced than when it serves to distract us from the inevitability of death. Turn on the television or look at the week-end colour supplements and see the advertisements which relentlessly entice us to pamper and cosset ourselves with the latest, essential. Luxury.
Unless we are alert, we become like that man in the Gospel story whose barns were not big enough to hold all his grain. "He asked himself, 'What am I to do? I have not the space to store my produce' (Lk 12:17). His solution was to tear down his barns, build bigger ones and store in them all his grain "and other goods." Then, he reckoned, he would be able to sit back and relax because he had "so many good things stored up for many years."
A shrew businessman, good investments, expanding assets, and a safe pension for his old age; he could have a ball. The future might be a long cruise in the sun, a bigger car and gourmet meals. Why not? He deserved it after all his planning and hard work.
But of course, the Gospel doesn't see it like this. "God said to him, 'You fool'" you had your eye on the ball but it was the wrong ball. All those plans, all that hoarding and scheming and now, "this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?" In this transient world nothing bought over the internet or through a glossy brochure will be ours forever. However big our barns, they will not insulate us from death.
This is a parable about greed; a greed that blinkers us and prevents us from seeing the true realities in life. "Beware! Be on your guard against greed of every kind, for even when someone has more than enough, his possession do not give him life" (Lk 12:15). The danger is spelt out forcibly by Paul, who, in warning us against evil, equates greed with idolatry. Are the energies of the heart caught up in the little things of this life and blind to what really matters?
The man in the story shared nothing. He was blessed with a good harvest but there is no hint that he gave some of the grain to his hungry neighbours. The more he had, the more he wanted for himself, storing up for his imagined future of eating, drinking and being merry. But death was waiting for him and of what use were his full barns to him? His bountiful grain would go to others.
"Guard against all greed." We may indeed have a lovely home, a stylish wardrobe and good food on the table. Thank God for this, let us enjoy these possessions but hold them lightly.
We must be clear-eyed, not blind with the desire to accumulate our goods, to build bigger barns. What we have is not nearly as important as what we have shared with others: food and clothing, friendship and compassion.
These are what make us real, and able to face death with hope because we have not stored up treasures for ourselves but are "... one who piles up treasure for himself and remains a pauper in the sight of God" (Lk 12:21).
Sr Redempta Twomey is Assistant Editor of the Far East at St Columban’s, Navan, Ireland.